December 24, 2004
Changing pollution into paradise
Ganei Yehoshua (Joshua's Gardens) is an ecological revolution
in the form of a park in the heart of Tel-Aviv.
GAIL LICHTMAN ISRAEL PRESS SERVICE
It is the beginning of December and Katie Moses of London and her
sister, Emma Zakai of Ramat Gan, are soaking up the Tel-Aviv sunshine
on a park bench in Ganei Yehoshua (Joshua's Gardens).
"I can't believe it," enthuses Moses. "I'm sitting
here in the middle of Tel-Aviv, surrounded by greenery and tranquillity,
and the weather is absolutely glorious."
Ganei Yehoshua, a 3,000-dunam (three-square-kilometre) green oasis
that cuts across the heart of metropolitan Tel-Aviv, is a place
where Israelis can go to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life.
Named after former Tel-Aviv mayor Yehoshua Rabinowitz (1911-1979),
the park is also known as Park Hayarkon because it follows the banks
of the Yarkon River.
"Ganei Yehoshua is a recreational centre with something for
everyone," said Adina Haham, general manager of Ganei Yehoshua,
the company that runs the park. "We are truly a regional park
and have some 1.2 million visitors a year. Because our winters are
very mild, we are able to hold activities all year round."
Visitors can rowboat, skateboard, inline skate, bicycle, picnic,
jog or just loll on the grass. There is a small zoo, a lake, a tropical
garden with a unique orchid greenhouse, a rock garden containing
an impressive geological collection from Mt. Hermon in the north
to Eilat in the south, a cactus garden with 50,000 plants and 3,500
species, formal and classical Mediterranean gardens and a natural
forest. In addition, the park includes a safari, a large topiary
with thousands of birds, play areas for children, a trampoline,
a rock-climbing wall and Israel's largest water park.
Ganei Yehoshua even features historical sites, including the remains
of seven ancient windmills that used the river's waterpower for
grinding flour, and Napoleon's Hill, the site of an ancient well
and the spot where Napoleon Bonaparte came ashore to survey the
On the far bank of the Yarkon, one can see Gan Habanim (Garden
of Sons), a memorial commemorating Tel-Aviv's fallen soldiers and
consisting of a series of black granite pillars. Twelve groves were
planted in this garden, containing trees typical of Israel, each
grove representing a different war in historical sequence.
And whenever Israelis want to hold a mass cultural event
Ganei Yehoshua is the place.
"We are like Central Park or Hyde Park in that we can accommodate
up to 100,000 persons," said Haham. "Every year, we host
the From Russia With Love Festival in which leading musicians from
the former Soviet Union perform, Hebrew Book Week and the annual
Ta'am Ha'ir (Taste of the City) Food Festival. International
stars such as Madonna, Celine Dion, Julio Iglesias, Tina Turner,
Michael Jackson and U2 have also performed here."
The park contains a natural amphitheatre, but this has become more
of a drawback than a plus.
"Every time we hold a mass event [about 15 times a year], we
have to set up the infrastructure from scratch," Haham noted.
"That means building a stage and setting up lighting and sound
systems. The cost is becoming prohibitive and that's why we're now
looking to build a permanent amphitheatre."
Such is the need to get this project off the ground that the Spanish
architect Santiago Calatrava has already been approached about designing
the space, even before the $8 million needed for its construction
has been raised. Once completed, a new modernized facility would
be able to accommodate as many as 80 concerts a year.
But as green and as tranquil as the park is today, this was not
always the case. Only seven years ago, the waters of the Yarkon
River were so polluted that when a temporary bridge carrying the
Australian team over it to the 1997 Maccabiah Games collapsed, it
was the pollution and not the fall that killed two of the four team
members who died and injured several more. "This was the straw
that broke the camel's back," Haham said.
For years, raw sewage and industrial waste had been pouring into
the river. The Yarkon was a smelly wasteland devoid of any wildlife
and much of its plant life. Passage of the Law for Municipal Sewage,
which forced the local authorities along the river's course to treat
their sewage, brought about an ecological revolution.
"The water quality improved dramatically," Haham explained.
"It is not drinking quality but there are now fish, turtles
and ducks living in the river again.
"The Yarkon River is very special, in that it is a mixture
of both salty and sweet water," Haham continued. "From
the sea to the windmill stations, the water is salty. Beyond this,
going inland, the water is sweet. Because of this, we have some
very special vegetation and the area attracts a lot of birds."
Taking ecology a step further, the park is the site of a joint project
of the Jewish National Fund, the Ministry of the Environment and
Tel-Aviv University, which involves experimental pools using vegetation
for purifying water. "This is an exciting project with the
potential for finding a 'natural' water purification method,"
"What makes Gan Yehoshua so special," Haham concluded,
"is that people can come here as often as they like and each
time they come they can experience the park in a different way.
It is just never boring."
More than a million residents of Greater Tel-Aviv would agree with